Teaching As if Your Warm Water Might Run Out
This past Labor Day weekend, my family and I had the wonderful opportunity to go camping at a Patrick’s Point State Park. It is located on California’s northern coast, just above Trinidad. It was amazing in every capacity; the scenery, the company and the campground itself. For those of you who are ardent fans of camping, you should consider making the trip someday, if you have not already.
This campground provides the always welcome amenity of shower facilities. Bring your quarters along because for a small fee you can have a limited number of minutes of warm water with which you can rinse off the dirt.
I found this camping trip enlightening, however, for reasons that may surprise you. I noticed that because the weather is generally pretty cold along the coast and the showers is warm so long as I have paid, I was particularly strategic and purposeful about my showers while at Patrick’s Point SP. I laid all of my toiletries out in an order according to the order in which I use them. I chose to do only the most essential things, like washing bodies and hair. I positioned my 5 yeard old daughter and myself so that we could take advantage of every drop of warmth. I laid my clothes out in a location that was neither too close to get wet, nor too far so that we would freeze when toweling off. I prepped my daughter for how the soaping and rinsing routine would go so we didn’t waste a single second. In short, I approached this shower like my life hung in the balance.
This is what struck me as powerful. When my comfort is on the line, I plan so as to ensure my shower is a success. When I risk freezing temperatures, I put out a good deal of effort in advance. I identify any possible challenges, I strategize about my environment, and I ensure the people I am responsible for are clear about the plan.
But wait. Is showering with warm water any more important than teaching students something new and crucial to further learning?
No, instruction of new ideas and skills is no different than honoring the limits of the warm water for which I have paid. We know that our brains can only absorb a limited number of new chunks of information. We know that our physiology limits the amount of time we can sit for any length of time and still be open to new learning. We know that there is a cycle our brains go through wherein there are designated times for learning that are optimal. Unlike the threat of my discomfort in a shower with frigid water, the ones who suffer the consequences if I fail to adequately plan are my students.
I felt very motivated by this realization. So often, there are factors in education that are outside of our control that make teaching challenging. This is not what this is about. This is about the fact that many times the factors inside our control in a lesson are neglected because they don’t result in our discomfort. Oh sure, the lesson may result in students not “getting it”, or misbehaving, or avoiding work as “they always do”, but that discomfort can be foisted off on the failings of the students.
My recommendation? Visit Patrick’s Point State Park and notice how carefully you plan for a shower that threatens to be freezing after 5 minutes. When you’re clean and warmly dressed, reflect on how urgently you plan for a lesson on any given day. With the same urgency to avoid discomfort, or like you have an endless supply of warm water?